Srila Prabhupada and Globalization
We have had the opportunity to celebrate over the last couple of years several significant dates in the memorializing Srila Prabhupada’s amazing career and that has provoked a lot of reflection in me over what changes have taken place in Vrindavan since 1975 when I first came here and did my first Parikrama.
The fact that we “foreigners” are even here today, all comes from Srila Prabhupada’s absolute conviction that bhakti and Vrindavan, the Vrindavan mood of prema-bhakti, are the highest value in human life, the parama-purushartha, and that this was not a religious faith meant for a handful of Indians from Bengal or India, but a recipe for spiritual perfection that could uplift the entire world.
As Prabhupada taught his own disciples to say of him,
“We bow down to you, O servant of Saraswati Thakur, the preacher of Gauranga’s message and deliverer of the Western countries, which are filled with impersonalism and voidism.”
When Prabhupada came to the West, he found a cache of frustrated young people who were beginning to see the limitations of the much-touted Western civilization. Prabhupada liked to tell his disciples approvingly of Gandhi’s riposte to a reporter who asked him what he thought of Western civilization. Gandhi had the temerity, the sheer audacity, to say, “It would be a good idea.”
Prabhupada made no compromise with Western civilization. He made his disciples shave their heads and put on tilak and wear dhotis and saris to announce to Europe and the Americas that the mad rush for material comforts and enjoyments and the sacrifices that they required was destroying humanity itself. That was 50 years ago. And the intensity of the Kali Yuga, the advance of Western civilization, has only increased since then at a pace that even we could not imagine.
When the first devotees came to Vrindavan with Prabhupada in the early 1970s, they sat with him at Radha Damodar by Rupa Goswami’s samadhi and heard the Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu without fear of monkeys and perhaps even hearing a peacock calling from Seva Kunj. Yes, there were pigs and urchins defecating in the streets, but the power of Vrindavan’s spiritual vibration penetrated because the obstacles to experiencing it were few. The distractions were not so many. It descended from the sun and it rose from the dust.
The pursuit of wealth and enjoyments comes in the guise of civilization, but every step towards the perfection of that civilization – which never comes, which cannot come because of the sheer impossibility of material life ever giving humanity the satisfaction it craves – results in another veil being spread over the true purpose of human life, which is to attain divine love for the Supreme Self, who teaches how that is done in Vrindavan. Who gives it by his eternal, undeparted presence here.
Prabhupada was ahead of the curve on globalization. He knew that India was hurtling towards Westernization, which is really just another word for globalization. The effect of the British Raj and then independence had slowly been changing the Indian ethos towards a more worldly one. There was a brief moment in which various cautious plans for industrialization were implemented, but in 1965, Nehru’s India was plodding along in the third way socialism, so how could Prabhupada know all that would happen to India when it finally stopped looking for a third way and decided to participate more fully in the world economy?
We see everywhere that globalization succeeds in doing is to destroy the protections around national culture. Religion, by its very nature, is the enemy of the consumerist lifestyle. This worldliness and other-worldliness are by their very nature diametrically opposed, and one sees the world according to the worldly view or one adopts the path inward, one looks within for the truth and recognizes the impermanence of all phenomena and lives life accordingly, as if the Self within were the sum total of all things.
India’s civilization is built around its religion. If you take away its religion, what is left of India’s culture? But for the secular world, economies are based on consumerism and that which is an enemy of the consumption society is an enemy of progress and increased GDP. Material prosperity is the only key to happiness.
Prabhupada lured disaffected and alienated youth in America with an alternative. And that alternative was India: the India of the Bhagavatam, the India of the Mahabharata, the India of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the Six Goswamis and Vrindavan Dham. That Vrindavan, that India, could still be perceived through the sultry and dusty days of the early 70s.
But today there is barely a nook in any of the three Vrindavans where the restless anxiety that accompanies the frantic search of consumers for money and excitement does not penetrate.
India as the Guru of the World
What Prabhupada achieved with his outreach to America was he confirmed the sense of India’s special place in the world and Hindu religious sense of identity. For a Hindu, the entirety of Bharatavarsha, from the Himalayas of the yogis to the southern tip where Rama crossed to Lanka, is sacred. That is not negotiable. It is almost the essence of Sanatan Dharma. To be from this land, to love it for its yogis, for its saints, for its gods and myths and rituals, is to be a Hindu.
We all like to be confirmed in our identity. That others from outside India could recognize the sacred nature of this land was a great confirmation of a strand of rhetoric that Hindus had been hearing since the time of Vivekananda – that India was capable of making a contribution humanity’s understanding of its true purpose, which is to know the Self.
Recently in Vrindavan, UP CM Adityanath Yoga and other Hindu nationalist leaders like Mohan Bhagwat spoke again about India’s role as spiritual guru to the world. From the beginnings of the rise of Hindu national consciousness, there has been a strain of thought in India that strongly believes its spiritual heritage is its greatest gift to the world, its greatest contribution, and that this is a “good” that outdistances any of the material goods that modern civilization has to offer.
Now this is where things get interesting.
Globalization means not a one way street, and when things mix, they mix in ways that are sometimes quite unpredictable and strange.
I will explore this a little more in a future article. Part I is here.